Five teachers I appreciate like nobody’s business!
I’ve run across a number of pretty good teachers over the years, but these are the they-don’t-make-enough-ceramic-mugs-to-show-my-appreciation educators I’m talking about here!
Mrs. R: It’s a little blurry, but I think I might have been kind of a mess in sixth grade—probably in a bunch of grades before that, too. Oh, I was a good student. But more a standard teacher pleaser than a standout. And I had a few other things going on—trying to fit it where I didn’t, trying to avoid getting teased while apparently providing ammunition for teasers, and trying to figure out how I could get myself somewhere else. If memory serves, Mrs. R was a first-year teacher and I’m not really sure she always had control of the class. That said, she helped me gain control over myself. And that was enough for me. I can’t remember a lot of what I learned in sixth grade, but I remember how Mrs. R made me feel.
Mr. M, the poet: Can you say mentor, coach, counselor? A soft-spoken man with a class of misfits. What could I possibly learn? A lot. We had it all—the social activist, the feminist, the science fiction nerd, the loner, the comedian, and me. These kids could write—I mean, WRITE. And Mr. M made me feel as if I could, too. I loved that class. For all of our differences, we saw similarities and accepted and supported one another for who we were. Mr. M facilitated that. And he had really cool penmanship to boot!
Mrs. B: Coincidence. Dumb luck. A higher power. Whatever you want to attribute it to, Mrs. B was a one-of-a-kind parent-tot and preschool teacher who just so happened to specialize in the study of brain development and giftedness. She was the first to use the word that would dictate the course of my life for decades to come. She got the kid, she got me, and she got IT. Didn’t need a test, didn’t need bells and whistles, didn’t need head-pounding-against-the-wall advocacy. Wow, were we spoiled!
Ms. H: Did somebody say project-based learning? Student-centered education? Makerspace? Ms. H was the poster child for, “Excuse our mess. We’re learning here.” She once said to me (I may be paraphrasing), “What would I put in a lesson plan? I never know for sure what I’m teaching ‘til the kids come in that day.” Yes, the classroom was student driven, but don’t confuse that with out of control. At one point, her students created a cardboard town, complete with a government, a constitution, and electricity. You try building one of those without expanding your science, math, writing, and social studies skills. And, by the way, it takes a lot of grit to build a city! It was full STEAM ahead in Ms. H’s classroom.
Mr. C: I’m not gonna lie, Mr. C was complicated. No doubt. But he made understanding gifted kids seem so simple. A guy who came, as he put it, “from the other side of the tracks” and proceeded to reset the rails. I hadn’t known him long when, in one conversation, he managed to provide more insight into the minds of gifted learners than I could store in my head. He had a way of reaching kids that had been written off or noticing those that had been overlooked. And, more often than not, he inspired students to look more deeply, to think more broadly, and to enjoy more fully. For Mr. C, education wasn’t merely about learning, it was about life.
So there you have it: Five educators who stand out. There are others, but they’ll have to wait for a future post.
For now, let me say…
To those teachers who gave me attendance cards so I could take roll in my pretend schoolhouse at home, to those who put me on bulletin board detail so I could feel more a part of the classroom (yea, I know you didn’t just want me for my mad construction-paper-cutting and stapling skills), to those who cast me in school plays so I could build my self-confidence (including roles as Grumpy and an ugly stepsister, but I won’t read too much into that), and to those who did all the other little big things you did over the course of my school years, I thank you.
And to those who helped me parent better and help set me on a course that would forever change the direction of my adult life, I thank you.
Note: The world lost two wonderful educators when Mr. M and Mr. C passed away. Perhaps they have met in that great classroom in the sky. I know they are both missed by the many students they left behind. May the lessons they taught live on.